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If These Experts Aren’t Ready to Send Their Kids to School, Should We?

This is the question on the minds of every parent I see lately: Will schools reopen in the fall? The doubt is both rattling and strangely comforting. While no one is answering the question, there’s still the chance that someone else will decide for us. If it doesn’t open, that sucks, but we know what that looks like now. If it does, that must mean that the world is safe again, won’t it?

An article in Friday’s New York Times yanked that comfort right out from under us. The paper surveyed epidemiologists at the end of May, asking them about when they would personally feel comfortable doing certain things that have been off-limits during the coronavirus pandemic. This latest piece focused in on the answers from 304 about sending their children to daycare, camp, and school.

In broad strokes the answers broke down like this: 10 percent would send their kids now; 20 percent would send them this summer; 40 percent this fall; 7 percent this winter; 9 percent in spring; and 15 percent in a year or more. It’s important to note that they aren’t answering about when it is safe to send kids in general to these places but when they will feel comfortable sending their own kids.

A glass-half-full assessment here is that 70 percent are optimistic about the fall. But this has been a roller-coaster of a year, so we really do want to know what’s going on with the other 30 percent.

Some expressed as much uncertainty as the rest of us, since there are so many factors we can’t account for, and two months is a long time from now, considering how the waves of infection have happened.

“This is a dreaded question,” Alicia Zagel of the Children’s Minnesota Research Institute told the paper. “My kids desperately need their friends and a formal learning environment, but I don’t necessarily want to send them!”

While the overall statistics still point to COVID-19 not being as serious in children as in adults, some said there’s still more research needed before we decide they’re safe. Remember how the news of pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome threw us all for a loop last month?

“We do not know much about long-term effects of COVID-19 in children,” said Edwin Trevathan of Vanderbilt University, who would wait more than a year before sending his kids to school. “However, we know that the virus impacts all organs. We will learn more in the future, and the long-term course in children who survive may not be benign, including those children who are asymptomatic when infected.”

Some are ready to take the risk for the sake of the social, emotional, and educational benefits their kids receive from school. But others who are thinking about a delay are concerned about the health of adults exposed to their children.

“With a family member with Type 1 diabetes, it will really depend on what is happening locally,” Barbara Saltzman from the University of Toledo said of why she would wait a year.

Speaking of the adults affected by this risk, USA Today also conducted a survey in May and found that 1 in 5 teachers is unlikely to return to their jobs if school reopens in the fall.

School systems across the country are still not saying for sure whether they’ll reopen in the fall. The rates of infection change from week to week, and while many expect them to go down during the warmer months, there’s the fear of another wave once the weather cools and we’re all back inside.

What can we as parents prepare for? We will need to brace ourselves for a lot of rules, for one. Masks may be required of everyone. And there may be staggered schedules, possibly having our kids go to school only two days a week or every other week in order to keep class sizes small. On the off days, students would be back to using distance-learning models. And there’s absolutely no sending your kid with sniffles to school.

If schools are open, we’ll have to make some tough decisions about whether that means they can’t see their grandparents or other at-risk people. Kids with weakened immune systems may be kept at home while their peers all go to school without them.

And if schools are closed or open only partially, we have to decide for ourselves whether our current way of doing things — for many of us, a cobbled together mixed schedule of work and school and screen babysitting — is sustainable. If you’re unhappy with your current plan, or you’re going to have to go back to work regardless of the school’s decision, one solution some are using is forming “pods” with other families. Within the pod, you agree on the same standards of hygiene and social distancing, and then you either share childcare and teaching duties with the other parents, or you hire a teacher or babysitter to take care of all of the kids. It seems like life on a commune or the Oregon Trail, but it has worked for some.

At least one parent I know was so upset about the prospect of schools being shut, they contemplated moving to a different state where the rules have been lax. We haven’t checked back on that plan now that infection numbers are going up in the states that opened early. Moving seems drastic. Then again, before March, so did the idea of keeping our children home from school for even a month.

Here are some adorable kids face masks for when you do bring your children out into the world.

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